Pension reform needed now
Gov. Tom Corbett likens Pennsylvania’s public pension problem to a tapeworm, a parasite that devours new revenue as fast as an improving economy can create it.
“:H KDYH WR FRnsLGHU HYHUyWKLnJ,” Ln fixLnJ WKH SUREOHP; LW’s the “tapeworm of the budget,” he told a Digital First Media editorial board meeting this month.
Corbett called pension reform the one thing he seeks to acFRPSOLsK WKLs yHDU. 3URSHUWy WDx UHIRUP ZLOO KDYH WR ZDLW.
Corbett’s call to action is not without merit. The public pension drain has escalated to a crisis in Pennsylvania with nearly $700 billion in year-over-year cost growth robbing state coffers of 62 percent of any new revenue.
In recent years, both the state employees fund (SEoSF and public school employees fund (PSEoSF have accrued unfunded liability amounting to billions of dollars a year, according to budget Secretary Charles Zogby,. The funds’ current unfunded liability is $41 billion, not including future shortfalls.
gust to get the funds back on good footing would require a WDx LnFUHDsH RI $9,000 Rn HYHUy KRusHKROG Ln 3HnnsyOYDnLD, Zogby said.
How Pennsylvania’s public pensions got to this point can be HxSODLnHG, EuW nRW ZLWKRuW SDLn. ,W’s D sWRUy RI JHnHURus EHnHfiW increases without corresponding changes to contributions. It’s a timeline of “kicking the can down the road,” as Zogby puts it, intentionally underfunding the systems and pushing the liability into the future. In 2001, the Legislature moved to enhance PHPEHU EHnHfiWs Ey LnFUHDsLnJ WKH PuOWLSOLHU WKDW FDOFuODWHs pension amounts. In 2002, employer contributions from school districts and government were capped. In 2003, Act 40 was passed to restrain future growth in employer contributions.
And, throughout the time, investment growth was nil, sending the funds into a downward spiral.
8nOLNH 401(N) RU SULYDWH LnYHsWPHnW IunGs, D GHfinHG EHnHfiW SHnsLRn SODn PDLnWDLns D OLDELOLWy Ln SDyRuW nR PDWWHU ZKDW happens to investments. While SEoS and PSEoS fell in value, liabilities grew. And the tapeworm grew, too.
While the path that brought us here is obvious, the way out is more clouded.
7KH UHIRUP flRDWHG PRsW RIWHn Ls PRYLnJ DZDy IURP D GHfinHG EHnHfiW SODn WR GHfinHG FRnWULEuWLRn, D SURSRsDO WKDW ZDs SDUW RI a 2010 pension reform package which did not go far enough. ZRJEy sDys sWDWH RIfiFLDOs DUH ORRNLnJ FORsHOy DW UHIRUPs WULHG Ln RWKHU sWDWHs, LnFOuGLnJ FKDnJHs Ln EHnHfiW FDOFuODWLRns, suFK Ds FDSSLnJ WKH sDODUy RU UROOLnJ EDFN WKH PRGLfiHU.
Corbett says a proposal will be part of his budget plan this yHDU, DOWKRuJK KH DGPLWs KLs RIfiFH KDs OLWWOH WLPH WR fiJuUH RuW WKH sSHFLfiFs. HLs RnOy KLnW WR WKH HGLWRUs’ JURuS ZDs WKDW DGMusWments to the multiplier could make an important difference.
BRWK RIfiFLDOs sWUHssHG FKDnJHs KDYH WR WDNH LnWR FRnsLGeration what people have already earned and what they are counting on. Current retirees have to feel secure their pensions won’t be affected, they said.
What they don’t say is how they plan to convince state employees and the state teachers union that change has to happen.
“7KH WDxSDyHUs JHW LW,” ZRJEy sDLG. 7KH SHRSOH RI 3HnnsyOvania know this is a crisis. But for pension reform to work, the state needs to get the unions and groups representing public employees on board, as well as the lawmakers.
One way might be to enlist the ideas and help of those groups in writing the reforms. It’s time now to get down to brass tacks DnG fiJuUH RuW D SODn WKDW nRW RnOy ZLOO ZRUN EuW DOsR WKDW ZLOO have the needed support. That tapeworm gets hungrier by the day. Journal Register News Service
An email that Cheltenham historian William Chambrés sent me recently about the oev. Dr. Martin Luther King gr.’s love of MDzz SURPSWHG WKRuJKWs Rn the black martyr’s socialreligious artistry and the work of a locally-based scholar who marched with King and wrote about the preacher’s transcending concept of “soul force.”
Such soulful power — that can be harnessed by any God-fearing human being — epitomizes graceful courage and strength even in the midst RI WKH PRsW KRUULfiF SHUsHcution, espoused the oev. Dr. Leonard E. Barrett, a black theologian, ordained minister and linguist, Ln KLs 1974 ERRN, “6RuO Force: African Heritage in African-American oeligion.”
In fact, “No one stands out more than Martin Luther King gr.,” wrote Barrett, a retired and noted Temple rniversity professor who lived in Cheltenham. King’s “writings and devotion to Black betterment … inspired a whole generation of men and women of all races. His life and dreams will illumine the pages of Black history for generations to come.”
Although Dr. Barrett, who was my neighbor and dear friend at the Cedarbrook Hill apartment comSOHx Ln CKHOWHnKDP PRUH than a decade ago, sadly died in 2003, the gamaica native also wrote the landPDUN 1997 ERRN, “7KH 5DsWDIDULDns,” HxSORULnJ the religion and even liberation roots of oeggae, another vital form of black PusLFDO HxSUHssLRn.
It’s clear that Barrett and King had a very deep appreciation of early black-rooted music, especially its spirituality that emanated from rhythmic slave chants and church spirituals, developing into the blues, “soul,” oeggae, rap or hip-hop and the innovativeness of MDzz.
I remember conversaWLRnDOOy HxSORULnJ WKRsH links with a bygone good IULHnG — MDzz PusLFRORgist Harrison oidley gr., of Temple rniversity’s WoTI-FM — as we’d cruise the city, usually on our way to a speaking engagement.
In fact, King, while a student in the Philly area during WKH HDUOy 1950s DW WKH CURzHU Theological Seminary in Chester and the rniversity of Pennsylvania, had a deep appreciation of AfricanAmerican life, venturing into the city to worship at black churches, get haircuts and likely a few plates of Southern-based soul food.
He even lectured and preached at Cheltenham High School, as well as Salem Baptist Church in genkintown, during the height of the civil rights PRYHPHnW Ln WKH 1960s EHIRUH KLs 1968 DssDssLnDtion. And along the way, it’s clear that King became familiar with the genius of improvisational MDzz, sRPHWLPHs characterized as America’s original music born from the soulIuO UKyWKPs, MRys and agony of the downtrodden that King defended so well with his indestructible “soul force” — an energy that led to the elections of Barack Obama as WKH fiUsW EODFN SUHsLGHnW RI the rnited States.
King had to be moved by the divine compositions of the late, great 3KLODGHOSKLDn, sDxRSKRnist gohn William Coltrane. And he would have been inspired by the tunes of Philly bassist Christian McBride, one of the many superb musicians (including Dee Dee Bridgewater, Benny Green, Lewis Nash, Chris Potter and Ambrose AkinmusireF in the upcoming Feb. 2 Monterey gazz Festival 55th Anniversary Tour at Philadelphia’s Merriam Theater.
King’s telling words in the forward of a pamphlet SURPRWLnJ WKH 1964 BHUOLn -Dzz )HsWLYDO, UHflHFWs KLs passion for the genre and such musicians: “God has wrought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create — and from this capacity has flRZHG WKH sZHHW sRnJs RI sRUURZ DnG MRy WKDW KDYH allowed” listeners “to cope with … environment and many different situations,” King wrote.
“Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of racial identity as a problem for a multiracial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls,” King observed.
“Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the rnited States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.”
The music, in other ZRUGs, HxSUHssHs WKH EULOliant core of what is so vital for achieving true OLEHUDWLRn DnG MusWLFH: WKH force of soul.
Don ‘Ogbewii’ Scott, a Melrose Park resident, can be reached at dscott9703@ aol.com.
A Place in History Donald Scott